Second life: A Madison property ready for the next act

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Photo: Patti Dixon Lillard Photo: Patti Dixon Lillard

What do you want with a big old house in the woods? This listing, a 4,000- square-foot home outside Madison, seems to invite far-flung ideas. Sure, it could be a family home, as it has been since it was built in 1986. But something about it suggests that it’s ripe for repurposing.

We’ll muse on that shortly. First, the setting: To get here, you turn off 29N and travel through the kind of scenery that gladdens the heart. It’s the grandiosity of the mountains and the quirky particulars of working farmscapes.

After a few turns onto successively smaller roads, you find yourself on a long gravel drive, passing cows and ponies on your way up to some wooded foothills. A steep climb delivers you to the house site, which is carved out of a thickly forested slope.

From the driveway, you can appreciate the house’s overall thang: angular offset rooflines and natural materials (namely, unpainted wood and stone). It’s that modern-meets-rustic aesthetic. There’s no yard to speak of, so—without further ado—in we go.

Once inside, you’re immediately standing within the house’s most appealing and dramatic section: the great room, organized around a large double-sided stone fireplace and lit by many south-facing windows. Walls are knotty pine; the ceiling slopes up to the south; exposed beams are dark and weathered, as though salvaged.

You’d better like looking at wood if you want to live here. Given the big rooms, tall ceilings and sparing use of drywall, there’s a lot of woodgrain to gaze it—and it’s been maxed out with wooden cabinets in the kitchen that sport the same medium-tone honey hue as the walls (and floors, and refrigerator doors and butcher block countertops). But hey—there are worse problems to have, and the kitchen, for one, could be creatively refinished to bring a note of contrast to the space.

As a place to actually cook, this kitchen seems quite workable. It’s got a simple layout with a big island, and being tucked under the lower side of the ceiling, it feels cozy even though it looks into a soaring space. Though it predates the days of the gourmet show kitchen (there’s only a little splash of granite here), note these touches of luxury: extra-large Sub Zero fridge and freezer, and a little prep sink in the island. The scale of the room, like the living and dining rooms, feels good. Update some details and you’re there.

Which brings us to the bathrooms, the place where this house most faithfully displays its mid-’80s vintage. Remember those little built-in Dixie cup dispensers? Remember wallpaper? Each bathroom in the house—and there are four and a half—is an opportunity to either connect with an earlier era in your life, or have some real renovation fun.

(There is something almost time-capsule-like about this house, so reminiscent is it of the time when it was built. The 30-year-old details are in impeccable condition.)

Anyway, back to the bones. You’ve got a master suite off one side of the kitchen, a laundry/mud room off the other, plus a den and an office off the living room. None of these are exceptional, but they’re pleasant enough, and almost every south-facing room also opens onto the deck—a nice, deep one with room for lots of seating.

There’s one more bedroom on the main level, plus two upstairs (where the hollow-core doors of the first level are exchanged for heavier, possibly salvaged ones that lend a whiff of Victoriana). A wooden spiral staircase leads from the great room down to the finished basement. You could practically house a second family down here: There are two unofficial bedrooms; a big open space for lounging, exercising or playing pool; a bathroom and a half; and even a space for a kitchenette.

So what’s to become of all this square footage? Listing agent Patti Lillard says she’s heard proposals ranging from religious retreat to farm education center. And there’s some sense in that: The house feels spacious enough for a gang of people to gather and confer, and it could sleep a bunch of them in relative privacy.

We’d be remiss not to mention the more than 80 acres that accompany the house. About half are forested, and half are open. It’s odd, to our thinking, that the house secludes itself among the trees and takes no advantage of the bucolic views, but that could be changed with some selective cutting.

And the barns could be repurposed, and the fields could be planted with hardy kiwis…yep, there’s plenty to imagine and do at this place. Whether private or quasi-public, we’re betting it has an interesting future.

THE BREAKDOWN

Address: 254 Rivendell Ln., Madison

MLS#: 531253

Year built: 1986

Bedrooms: 4

Bathrooms: 4 1/2

Square footage (finished): 4,568

Acreage: 83.59

Extras: Garage, hot tub

List price: $779,000